Interview by Jaime Chesney, transcribed by Hunter Homistek
Fight Club Pittsburgh has a slew of the gym’s champions posted on the wall. I have only been there since September 2013, and was familiar with all but one of these champions, Adam Milstead. I have heard his name of course, but had no clue as to who this man was, other than he was a heavyweight and a champion.
One day I walked into the gym, and saw this impressive man crippling the poor Muay Thai bag. I immediately recognized him from the poster. When I walked past him, I nearly broke my neck to look up to all of the 6’3″ of Adam Milstead.
After a few months of training at the same gym as Adam, I got to know him as a very personable, and all-around good guy. A gentle giant, well outside of the cage anyway. Read on to learn about the life of Adam “The Prototype” Milstead, from how he was 0-18 in wrestling as a child, then lost his father, and still became the champion he is today.
Let’s start at the beginning, before you were even born. Were your parents athletes?
My father went to Penn State on a basketball scholarship. My mother, not so much. She played a little softball in her day, but it wasn’t anything too crazy. But my dad, he played football, he played basketball, but it was funny because he was only 5’9″ but he had enough athleticism to actually dunk at that time. That was way back in the day. They still weren’t allowed to dunk.
My mom is 5’10”, 5’11”, so that’s where my height’s coming from. He (my dad) went to Penn State and then he actually transferred to West Virginia Wesleyan.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a town called Prince Frederick, Maryland. It sits right on the edge of the Chesapeake Bay. My entire childhood, I didn’t have an alarm clock until I was in high school because I would wake up with the sunrise coming over the bay. It was absolutely beautiful; I miss it. I was there until I was 19 or 20 then I decided to move up here.
What brought you to Pittsburgh?
It was a series of events. One, I was looking for a college to play football at. That was my original plan when I was that age–that I would go and try my luck with professional football but at the same time get a college degree. When I was down there, I was working on just getting bigger and focusing on football, and then, unfortunately, one morning I woke up to find my dad had passed away, and I ended up on a whim just picking a spot, and it ended up being up here at Geneva College. He was going to help me out through college and stuff like that, but I got a hard shot of life put on me, because rent fell on me as well as car payments, bills, and all this stuff. It wasn’t that much, but for a 19 year old, it was tough. I was working full-time, still trying to train for football, and then I finally made the decision; I just gave up everything and came up here and started playing football at Geneva.
You said you picked a spot, but what was it about Geneva that appealed to you?
My original plan was to go to Fairmont State University in West Virginia. It was one of the biggest recruitment schools in West Virginia, and that’s where I wanted to play. So, I would go out there before my dad passed, visit, we would work out with the team, we talked to the coaches, and all that. We did that probably two or three times and then the time was where it was my decision to go there, and this was after my dad passed. I called the coach up and said, ‘Hey, man, I’m ready to come down. I’m ready to play.’ And the first thing the coach asked is who I was. ‘Who is this?’ And I said, ‘Well, this is Adam. I’ve been out there four times.’ And he said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. Our roster is kind of full. You can walk on if you want.’ I got really pissed off and I called my coach, my high school coach, and I said, ‘I need to go play some ball. I need to go somewhere right now.’ Because it’s like two weeks before camps start at most colleges. I was dead in the water. Two hours later, he got a hold of this one coach, I’ll never forget his name, Coach Zemke, he was the wide receivers coach at Geneva College, but he gave me a call, and he said, ‘Hey, man, we’d like for you to come out and play.’ So I didn’t even think about it, I didn’t look it up, I didn’t know anything about Geneva College. I just drove. I drove up and I did defensive line work in camp, my position was defensive end and punter. It’s a strange combination, but I ended up going up there.
How did that end up working out for you?
Well, not too well. When I went up there, I didn’t realize that D-III means private, and with private they’re not allowed to give athletic scholarships. Which is funny, because the year before, Geneva was considered an NCIAA conference or something like that, which they can give as many athletic scholarships as possible. So they had just switched to D-III, and I went up there and they told me I had to find a way to get $25,000 to them, like, soon. And I’m 19 years old, I have no way to cosign with my dad gone, my mom wasn’t in a position to do anything. She lived about two hours away in Frederick, Maryland. My grades started slipping big time because I was always in the administration office. I’d be sitting there for eight hours straight, just contacting all these banks to see if anybody could give me a loan, and I couldn’t find anybody. The whole time I was there, I was still playing football. They had me doing the regular program, playing in the games, and the coaches were like, ‘Don’t worry about it. Just keep playing for us.’ So I’m playing and about after the third game, I’m on the practice field for practice when my own middle linebacker hits me and I plant wrong, and my ACL gets torn. There goes my season. I ended up having to go through surgery. Of course, I couldn’t make it to class, so my grades were dropping even further, and at the same time I’m still getting asked by the dean to pay…I made the decision at that time I had to leave college. That was actually my father’s biggest dream for me was to get a college education. Nobody in my family has one, so that’s what I really wanted to get and, of course, have a chance to go for the pros. But that fell short, and I ended up finding a place, I got an apartment. I had a little bit of money saved up from my last job, and I spent all of that on rent and bills and stuff like that, and I ran into even tougher times then.
After that, I ended up, as soon as I got my apartment, I went three months without work. I found it incredibly hard up here to find work. I was on my own, I had a $500/month rent payment plus electricity, car payment, phone bills, so I maxed out all my credit cards. I maxed out my bank account. I had no money. I was sitting there, and I’d eat peanut butter for two weeks straight out of a jar. Literally. I would take out the jar, take a spoonful, eat it, and put it back. That was my dinner. It was rough. I didn’t have enough money for Ramen noodles.
And then one morning I woke up, I found my car got repo’ed, my bank account got cut off, and this is all in the same week. Credit cards got shut off, phone got shut off. And that was the hardest time. It was also in the winter time, so even if I were to find work, it’d be seasonal type stuff.
What did you do? You had to eat. You had to live. You had to find somewhere warm, right?
I found a way to pay it. My mom helped out a little bit, she would always send up a few bucks here and there so I could (live). The dollar menu at McDonald’s was a treat, man. I loved it. Every week I got a chance to do that. I got a job at the YMCA, and I was still able to train. I still wanted to play football at that time and I was starting to get away from it because the coaches were assholes. They didn’t really care about me, they cared about football. And it’s a business. I understand.
I got a part-time job at the YMCA making minimum wage, and I trained there, and then I ended up getting work at a fiberglass manufacturing plant. That was the most difficult job ever. It was 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., three days on, three days off, in a 100-degree environment working with fiberglass. It was absolutely brutal. I made $12/hour and I was finally able to get myself up a little bit. It was just absolutely ridiculous. Most of the time was just spent trying to get myself out of debt at that time.
It was during that time when I was just getting over my knee, and just getting over having to rehab, and I went to the mailbox and got my mail. I went down and I sat down at my couch, and I opened up the mail and there was an ad that said “Try mixed martial arts. Thirty-day free trial.’ I ended up giving the coach a call. I was like, ‘Hey, I wrestled my whole life. I did a little bit of mixed martial arts. It was nothing crazy.’ And he was like, ‘You’re a wrestler? Come down tomorrow.’
Where was that?
It was at World Class MMA, Dan Roppo. He was my first coach, and he got me into MMA. Most guys would train six months to a year before they fight. I went in, two months, and I went in for my very first fight. I ended up winning. I just wrestled the guy the whole time. I ended up winning a split decision, it was close, over a hometown guy. Our coach came up to me, and he said, ‘Dude, you have a lot of heart. You have a bright future in this sport.’ And ever since then, I was like, ‘I’m done with football. I’m going to do MMA. I don’t care if you don’t make a lot of money. It’s just the idea, you know?’
So with wrestling your whole life, you started wrestling at what age again?
I started wrestling at seven or eight.
And your first year?
In my first year, I didn’t win one match. I think at that particular time I didn’t know what I was doing in wrestling. I was going through the motions, but I don’t think I ever really got the idea about it until it was my second year.
How many matches did you compete in?
I believe it was 0-18.
Did you even understand why you were doing what you were doing?
Not at that particular moment. I would get upset when I didn’t get my hand raised, but when I look back at it, I just kind of think about the coaches. I kind of think of when I walked out the coaches just kind of shook their heads, like, ‘Oh, here we go again.’ I don’t know exactly what I was thinking back then. I remember when my dad asked me, ‘Hey, do you want to start wrestling?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, sure!’ And then the next comment I made was, ‘But, dad, what if I get hurt jumping off the ropes?’ That’s the wrestling I thought I was doing. I had no idea what amateur wrestling was.
So your second year…
Maybe it was just habit to do it, but I ended up doing it again next year, and I ended up going to nationals the next year. I went to the eastern nationals. I didn’t place, but I went and took second at the states, I took first in my region. It was like, I don’t know what the heck happened, if I got a good weight class or what.
Everybody’s gotta win, win, win these days. Kids these days can’t lose because it’ll hurt their feelings, and that’s a big problem. But since I learned losing at an early age, I think that second year when I finally won, that really pushed me to be better. Losing, you keep losing, keep losing, you don’t change anything, and that’s the way you’re going to be, and it sucks…When you win, it wasn’t because one guy told the other guy, ‘Hey, take it easy on him.’ It was something I did. I won. And then I started understanding what wrestling was about and winning in general.
My entire life, I did football in the fall, wrestling in the winter, and baseball in the spring. Back then, wrestling was still considered a team sport, and wrestling was the only team I’ve ever been a part of, we actually were undefeated for like six, seven years. When I was playing football or baseball, we were always like a .500 team. We didn’t really win anything. I was alright at baseball, and I excelled a little at football. When I was going through the little leagues, you know, I was a quarterback, I played about every position. I was never really a winner back then, other than wrestling when I really started focusing on it.
So then in my MMA career, in my first three fights, I went 1-2, I lost to the same guy twice, Mike Linza, and he’s still undefeated. He was in one of the most epic amateur fights I’ve ever seen against Kevin Zalac. It went to a draw. But Mike Linza’s an undefeated fighter, he hasn’t fought in a while, but when I first fought him, my thing was, being a wrestler, to wrestle him and take him down. Well, he took me down, and it pissed me off. I wasn’t expecting it. I remember we both weighed in at 199.7 for a 205 match. So we both weighed in at the same weight, I didn’t know who he was, he didn’t know who I was, we just went at it. He definitely won the first two rounds. He took me down, he hit me in the face, it was bad. I lost that fight. I won the third round, but it wasn’t enough.
I asked for him against because I knew I could beat him. So I went and I called up Chuck Asphour and I said, ‘Hey, I want to fight Mike Linza again.’ And he set it up. Because he just got done fighting, he beat a guy, and we fought again. I was doing good this time. I think it was fairly even. The third round came around, and it was like whoever wins that round wins the fight, and he ended up getting me down, and my foot got caught in the ropes, and I’m working on getting my foot out of the ropes, and he throws these big three hammerfists. Boom. Boom. Boom. And the ref comes in and stops it, but I wasn’t out. I was clear as day. He hit me and the ref pulls him off, I grabbed Mike’s leg, and they’re pulling me off, I was like ‘What’s going on?’
It was an early stoppage, and I know that because the referee actually came up to us and told us he was sorry for stopping the fight.
Did you get into fistfights as a kid?
I was hardly in an argument as a kid. Nobody really picked on me. And if they did, I wasn’t really looking to fight. I was always curious what would happen in a fight, but I never got that opportunity. My dad was big on scholastics, on academics, and he told me to avoid situations like that…So I always got myself out of those situations, plus, when you’re doing three sports a year and you’re doing the homework that’s involved, you don’t have time to get in those situations.
Tell me more about your wrestling career.
My sophomore year was when I first got onto the varsity wrestling team just because, as a freshmen, we had a senior in my weight class who was absolutely insane. We wrestled all the time, and the guy was just insane. I couldn’t beat him. So finally, as a sophomore, there was another guy, same weight, who was really talented, and he ended up, I forget what happened, I think he got suspended from school, but they brought me up, and that year was the first time I started for varsity. It was such a cool feeling, going out there and wrestling with all the big-name guys. I did really well. I don’t exactly remember my record, but we ended up going undefeated that year as a team, we went all the way to states and won states, but when we went to regionals, we were wrestling against the second-best team in the state. They happened to be in our division…It was…between these two teams, and the winner goes on to the state finals. So, we’re out there wrestling, and it’s all tied up, and I’m literally the last match. The whole team is riding on me. I had to go out and wrestle, his name was Eichner, he was this real stocky senior. He was tough. Tough as nails. I had to go out and just win it, win the match. It was insane, because the crowd was on their feet, I was nervous, my heart was pounding, all these seniors, all their dreams were riding on this match. Coach came up to me, and I was like, ‘I know what I have to do. I’m going to go do it.’ So we come out, he ends up taking me down and at the second period he was up four to two. We started wrestling, and I stood up, I ended up taking him down, and at that time it tied it up, and it was literally 30 seconds (left), and I hit this cradle, and I just squeezed, and I remember the crowd going nuts. I wasn’t worrying about anything because I knew if I got that count I was going to win. Sure enough, the round just says it hit the two-second mark. I remember it plain as day. Just as it hit the two-second mark, he flipped over, went to stand up, and I was holding him, and that was it. It was over. I won. That was probably my most proud moment in all my sport history. After that, we went on to state finals and became state champs.
That taught me a lot. It taught me to deal with pressure and nervous situations…It made me stronger.
Talk to me about your nickname, ‘The Prototype.’ How did you get that?
It was given to me by my coach. When he looked at me, I was coming out of football, I was about 225, 230 then, so I was pretty big. But it wasn’t that, it was the look, but when I got into MMA, I didn’t want to stop. I loved it so much. I was training six days a week. After practices, I even went as far as making my own medicine ball workout. Coach came up to me and he said, ‘I’ve got a perfect nickname for you…’ Well, you think about a prototype and you think it means there are flaws and whatever, but when you look up the definition, it means your prototypical view of something perfect. So what he was referring to me is the way an MMA fighter should look, should train, and should act like.
At first, I was like, ‘Ehh…Why couldn’t he call me something cool like ‘DragonSlayer?’ But I looked it up, and I was like, ‘I like that, coach. Thank you.’ There are a lot of people who make their own nicknames, but it’s so much better when you get your own nickname.
Walk me into the cage. What are you thinking about?
My mind is going a million miles a second. You have the most bipolar moment, because you’re out there, and you’re like, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna go out there and kick his ass. I’m a badass dude!’ But then you’re thinking, ‘Oh, man. I shouldn’t have eaten that chili cheeseburger two weeks ago.’ Then you’re like, ‘Man, this guy’s big and strong. He’s supposed to be, like, the top heavyweight!’ It’s that constant back and forth. And then, for me, the switch goes off, and it’s like, alright, I’m here to do work…You get in the cage, and you’re energized, you’re ready to go. For the whole two months, you were working on molding these parts of your game, and now you get to mold them in front of these people on cameras, and you feel like a badass. You feel like a Hollywood star. It’s like being able to live a dream. That’s what I like about it.
So when you go in there, are you looking for a knockout or a submission?
I go where the fight goes. I like to think I’m a pretty well-rounded fighter. Knockouts, of course, are what the people like to see. Submissions, they’re more on the side of people who train MMA and know what they’re looking for, but either or, I don’t ever want a decision. I want to do what’s necessary to finish the guy…With Nick Smiley, I thought I might have to submit him, because he’s a big guy. He’s strong as hell, and believe it or not, he’s actually got really good takedown defense…I’m a heavyweight. I don’t like to go three rounds. I’ve been there before when I was a light heavyweight, you go three rounds, and you feel terrible afterwards. You don’t want to get up, you don’t want to do anything, you just want to go home and sleep.
What is it like today as a fighter planning for a fight? Tell me about a day in the life as Adam training.
Training is actually the easy part. It’s the business side, promoting, getting sponsors and everything (that’s difficult). You gotta go to work, you gotta pay the bills. So I go out there, and I’m usually out on the pipeline for 12, sometimes 13 hours. Then I go over to Scott Umberger’s and lift at Umberger performance for about an hour and a half, two hours, then from there I head over and I train at Pittsburgh Fight Club for about two hours as well. So during camp, I’d only get about 5 hours of sleep, because I live 45 minutes away from the gym, and I live an hour and fifteen from work. It was stressful, and at the same time, it was mentally exhausting. Number one: You couldn’t get sleep, and Number two: On top of that training regimen, I was always on the phone, I’d be talking to people about sponsors and stuff like that. That’s my fault because I don’t have a management company, and I just didn’t have the knowledge to do it the right way. So I would be calling these guys up, talking to them, and then, let’s not even think about ticket sales, at the same time, setting up your training sessions, too. For lighter guys, you have guys already there. For heavyweights, we’re rare. So you have to call people…Sometimes you get one or two guys in, and sometimes you get like an epic night, you get six or seven guys in to spar.
What are your plans for the future, short term and long term?
I’m staying ready. I’m not getting to that point where I was before when I took my hiatus. It wasn’t like I was totally out of the game, but I lost a lot of the mentality, so I’ll stay in the gym this time and keep working and at least not have that far back to go to pick back up. As far as short term, if somebody asks to fight me, I’ll fight them. I don’t get them a whole lot, but I like that. I like the feeling that somebody thinks they can beat me, you know? If somebody decides, ‘Hey, I want to fight Adam Milstead,’ then let’s set it up two months from now and you get training. Let’s go at it.
Long-term, I want this to be as long as possible. I love MMA. It is, for most people, a relatively short career. I’m 27 now, I still have some time in it, and I have a few options, some opportunities coming up, possibly in California or Florida. So I’m waiting to see if those things will go through. If they do, I’ll be heading to a big gym, either American Top Team (ATT) or American Kickboxing Academy (AKA).
Where do you see yourself a year from now?
I’d like to see myself in the UFC. That’s for sure. Realistically, if I can get on a bigger show, the undercard of Bellator, whatever, that’d be fantastic. Any bigger shows. I’m not saying Pinnacle’s bad. I love Pinnacle, and I love fighting for them.
What would it mean for you to fight for the UFC?
It would definitely be a surreal moment, a dream come true. I remember sitting back, watching Stephan Bonnar vs. Forrest Griffin, my dad and I were watching that, the finals to the first season of The Ultimate Fighter. I looked at these guys, and I thought, ‘That is absolutely barbaric. That is insane. You will never catch me doing that!’ And now I look at it, and it’s like, well, it’s not really that bad. It’s a lot of fun. It became a dream for me when I fought my very first fight.
What do you think your dad would say now as he’s looking down on you?
I hope he’d say that he’s proud. That’s all I’ve ever wanted. If I can go out there and just make him happy, that’s it.
Now it’s time for a little fun, your favorites.
Your favorite food?
Oatmeal cream pies. I like anything with peanut butter. What would be perfect is, Bruster’s has this peanut butter cup ice cream, oh my goodness, it’s amazing. Out of this world. Basically, anything with peanut butter, Reese’s, anything like that.
Most guys will think I’m a wimp, but I like angry orchard (hard apple cider) a lot. But also strong beers, IPAs (India Pale Ales). Probably Dogfish Head is my favorite beer. Favorite liquor? Jameson.
Favorite athlete overall?
Cal Ripken. I grew up watching him, I grew up in Maryland, so we were always a Baltimore Orioles fan. Whenever he got that streak, I forget how many, however many games he played in a row, that was cool, because he was awesome. He was a clutch player. He was that guy, two outs, bottom of the night, they’re down a run and he hits a home run. He was that guy. At the same time, you saw the way he took baseball, he’d always be there until like one in the morning signing autographs with fans.
Favorite sports team?
Oh, man, this is going to be bad. Baltimore Ravens.
I don’t want to say it because I worked with him, but Channing Tatum. When he filmed ‘Foxcatcher’ here, we did a fight scene. I was supposed to be this big Russian guy who came in to fight him, and we spent 17 hours with him in the cage. It was a really cool moment. I was considered a stuntman and an actor, but the funny thing was that I was supposed to play Gary Goodridge, who was black. *laughs*
But me and Channing Tatum are starting out, I throw a jab-cross, he lowers his level, picks me up, and slams me. He did that about six or seven times. We got a couple OK shots, but we ended up on the seventh time, I ended up throwing out my back, and this is two weeks before my Gladiators of the Cage fight. I still won, that’s when I busted my knee up, but it was cool. That was the time I felt like a true Hollywood star, because we spent like 17 hours in the cage, walking back, looking at each other, doing all the pre-fight things. They’d have to move all these fans over here, move them over there. There were like 1,000 people over there at Monroeville convention center. Jazz Securo was actually the announcer there. Justin Wilcox was my cornerman. Cody Garbrandt was in it. It was cool. After that, I was so tired, we got out of the cage, and me and Channing were sitting at the end of the runway, and we were talking. I invited him back, I said, ‘Hey, in two weeks I got a fight. I’ll get you VIP tickets if you want to come to it.’ He’s like, ‘Ahh, I wish I could. I got a kid on the way.’ But we’re sitting there talking, and here comes a security guard, they’re like running at us, saying ‘Go! Go! Go!’ They had let the fans out, all the extra crowd, and a horde of women just comes at us…He eventually invited me back to his trailer, we had a few beers and we talked. So, yeah, he’s probably my favorite actor.
It’s gotta be one of the epic movies. I have two of them. I like ‘Gladiator’ and ‘300.’ The second ‘300’ that just came into theaters, though, don’t do it. It’ll ruin it. I like those two as far as epic goes, but then I also like ‘Forrest Gump’ and ‘Shawshank Redemption.’
I’m a rocker, so I like Disturbed. I grew up listening to Disturbed. When I was a kid, I had to old cassette tapes, and whenever Disturbed would come on, I’d hurry up and pop in the tape so I’d have like a minute and a half of Disturbed.
Places you would like to travel to?
New Zealand is one of my favorites. I’m a big angler. I like to fish a lot, and they have some trout streams up there that nobody’s ever touched. That and it’s just beautiful. I grew up on Xena the Warrior Princess, and that’s where it was filmed.
Dream fighters to train with?
Probably Daniel Cormier or Cain Velasquez, which are both out of AKA, which I why I chose there as a place I want to train. You have Daniel Cormier who is definitely going to be the next light heavyweight champion, who’s going to destroy Jon Jones, and then of course Cain Velasquez just because Justin Wilcox told me they’re good guys. When Justin Wilcox says that, it means something.
You don’t want to train with somebody who just is in it for themselves, you like to hear about people who are helping each other. Like, Stipe (Miocic, UFC heavyweight) is such a good guy. He’s one of those guys, he’ll beat you up in sparring, but afterwards, he’ll tell you, ‘Hey, man, this is what I was catching you on. Why don’t you try this?’
Number one is my dad. He’s my hero. There’s been times when he kept a roof ever my head whether it was a motel room or somebody’s basement, and the fridge was always full of food. And even if it wasn’t, he’d give me his own food so I could eat. He’s the one guy I would ever consider a hero.
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